Weeks before this weekend's kickoff, Norcross' football team trucked down to the Georgia Dome to practice.
The day of the session in the Georgia Dome, head coach Keith Maloof had plenty to worry about. Depth charts, bus schedules, eligibility, sponsorships. But he also spent time that day to ensure his team was all set for a group picture. He set it up before practice in the Georgia Dome.
This invitation to the Corky Kell Classic - featuring four games today - meant more than just another game.
"Not every kid gets to do this," Maloof said.
At Grayson, disappointment from the season-ending loss to Camden County a week shy of a trip to the Dome for the semifinals lingered. A loss is never easy to reconcile, no matter when it happens.
"When we got that phone call and got invited to play in this game, that perked us back up," said Grayson head coach Mickey Conn. "The whole community is excited all the way down to our youth program. The Corky Kell is a lot of fun and we are really excited."
For Norcross and Grayson, both newcomers to success in AAAAA football, the invitation to Corky Kell is more than just a chance to play in the annual season kickoff showcase. It's a status symbol and a symbol of the programs' clout across the state. Grayson plays McEachern today and Norcross takes on Camden.
In Gwinnett terms, the two join just Brookwood, Parkview and Dacula as past invitees and typify the strengthening of football across the county. Of the eight teams playing this year, three are from Gwinnett. Brookwood is also invited and will play Walton.
It's nothing new for the Broncos, who have opened their football season in the Georgia Dome since 1998, but for Grayson and Norcross a trip to the Dome has always just been a dream.
"(It is exciting), especially for us," Maloof said. "Maybe not for a Brookwood or a Parkview or whatever, but new guys like us and Grayson, where our programs have blossomed over the past few years, it is real big."
"You fight and scrape and claw to get respect and it is nice to get that respect," Conn said. "We have got to carry on. The guys in front of them laid the foundation and we are grateful to the eight other teams that have been through here to put us in this position. It is quite a reward. We are really thankful."
The trip is not without challenges. The games are a week before most of Georgia kicks off and each team must forfeit a home gate and concessions, but the rewards outweigh the costs.
"We are seizing the moment and enjoying every bit of it," Maloof said. "It is good for our kids and the program."
At Grayson the week early is welcome.
"We are ready to play," Conn said. "We are tired of hitting each other. We are ready to play a game."
Plus, with the state championships set for the Dome this year, there is always the hope for a symmetrical season. Start and end on the same field.
"That is the ultimate goal," Conn said. "That is what all of us have in mind at the start of the season. We'll see what happens."
SideBar: Corky Kell
Where: Georgia Dome
11:45 a.m. - Starr's Mill vs. Etowah
2:30 p.m. - Brookwood vs. Walton
5:30 p.m. - Norcross vs. Camden Co.
8:30 p.m. - Grayson vs. McEachern